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Constitutional Case for an English Parliament
England has been a unified country for more than 1000 years. England and Wales were united by the Acts of Union (1536-43), which gave Welsh representatives the right to attend the English Parliament. The union of Scotland with England and Wales in 1707 saw the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Thus, the English parliament became the core of a new British parliament and a new British state. Both were further enlarged when the Act of Union with Ireland (effective 1st January 1801) created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.The United Kingdom cultivated an inclusive British identity that was symbolised by the institutions of Parliament and the Monarchy. Thus the English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh have had their separate national identities and a common British civic identity. For the English, more than the others, the two identities became confused. Nelson, commanding a British fleet at Trafalgar, had no hesitation in phrasing his famous signal “England Expects…” although it is said that a Scottish sailor hoisted the flags. In a patriotic song, at a critical stage in the Second World War, the title was “There’ll Always be an England” although the verses referred also to the Union Flag, Britain and the Empire.
The British state, which was at its most powerful in the nineteenth century, began its decline early in the twentieth century. A long-lived campaign for home rule for Ireland was marked in its later stages by the Easter Rising of 1916, and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921. The 1920 Home Rule Act incorporated six counties of Northern Ireland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 1921, Northern Ireland was granted limited self-government. The Irish Free State, consisting of 26 counties, became Eire in 1937, and then the Irish Republic in 1949.
The success of Irish nationalists was an important factor in the formation of Plaid Cymru in 1925 and the Scottish National Party in 1928. These parties were created with the aim of gaining home rule for Wales and Scotland. With the demise of the British Empire, after World War II, British identity meant less than it once had. The glue that bound the Union together became weaker and in Scotland and Wales, the expression of national identity and a desire for self-government became stronger. The SNP had its first MP elected in 1945; Plaid Cymru had to wait until 1966. In the October 1974 general election, the SNP gained 30% of the Scottish vote and won 11 parliamentary seats. Plaid Cymru gained 10% of the Welsh vote and had 4 MPs elected. In order to dampen support for Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, the UK government made separate financial and constitutional arrangements for Scotland and Wales. These included departments of state for each country and, in 1978, favourable financial arrangements under the Barnett Formula. Because of exceptional circumstances, Northern Ireland was already receiving extra funding.
Despite special treatment, support for Scottish independence grew. In a referendum in 1979, a majority of the votes cast favoured a directly elected Scottish Assembly. However, the rules of the referendum stipulated that for the proposal to be successful it needed the support of the majority of all those eligible to vote. As a consequence of that, the proposal for a Scottish Assembly failed. This proved to be a setback for the SNP but with the approach of the 1997 general election support for the SNP was again growing. The Labour Party responded by offering the people of Scotland and Wales a form of devolved self-government, subject to a referendum, the result being decided by a majority of those voting.
The overriding issues are those of fairness and democracy. Following the 1997 referendum, Scotland gained a Parliament with devolved powers which included the right to enact primary legislation. At the same time the less pressing demands of the people of Wales were recognised by the creation of a Welsh Assembly with powers to decide priorities in the allocation of finances but without the power to enact primary legislation. Arrangements for Northern Ireland continued to be led by events peculiar to the Province. As part of the Peace Process, Northern Ireland was given an Assembly with devolved powers, including the right to enact primary legislation.The interests of the people of England have been ignored in making these important decisions to devolve power from Westminster. They have not been given the same opportunity as those in other parts of the UK to have an elected body of their own. They are left governed by a United Kingdom government and parliament that is elected by the whole UK electorate and must consider the interests of everyone in the UK. This means that the crucially important power to initiate policy and legislation in areas that affect only England lies with a UK government that does not have a specific mandate from the people of England.
The parliamentary aspect of the problems resulting from devolving powers to a Scottish Parliament was well expressed by the member of parliament for West Lothian (Tam Dalyell) who, before those powers were devolved, asked why MPs from Scottish constituencies in the House of Commons should be able to discuss and vote on English and Welsh legislation, while English and Welsh MPs could not vote on similar legislation affecting Scotland. This has been described as “The West Lothian Question”.
Furthermore, Ministers who control and administer legislation that affects only England may not represent English constituencies. The cabinet inevitably includes such Ministers and they have a corporate responsibility for the government of England. English legislation, unlike that devolved to Scotland, is also subject to consideration and amendment by the House of Lords, whose members include many who do not have the credentials to represent English interests. This situation has been described as “The English Question” and, in some uses, includes the West Lothian Question.
In addition to the unfairness outlined above, the people of England are subject to legislation enacted by a UK Parliament in which they are under-represented. Scotland and Wales have more MPs per head of population than does England. For example, Scotland has 8·6% of the UK population but 10·8% of MPs. England has 83·7% of UK population but 80·7% of MPs.
The Barnett formula is also the cause of a growing sense of unfairness to the people of England as they see the ability of the Scots not only to decide their priorities but also to benefit from the more ample financial resources made available to them.
It is not just the financial and parliamentary aspects that affects the people of England. There are also cultural and educational factors to consider. None of the arrangements relating to devolution acknowledge English identity and culture, nor provide a means for promoting them. These and other forms of discrimination are difficult to challenge and remedy because there is no elected body that represents and pursues the interests of all the people of England. These anomalies draw frequent and continuing public attention to any event in which there is apparent Scottish involvement in English matters. They fuel an increasing resentment among the people of England who feel that they are being treated unfairly with their democratic interests ignored. Devolution elsewhere is causing more and more of them to see their primary identity as English, and to rediscover England’s long history as an independent country enjoying democratic traditions and political freedoms. Following the lead of others, the people of England are beginning to demand that their voice should now be heard.
The Barnett Formula
The underlying justification for the introduction of the Barnett Formula was that all areas of the UK were entitled to broadly the same level of public services and that the expenditure on them should be allocated according to their relative need. In 1976, a study of relative needs and expenditure for different parts of the UK found that expenditure (per person) in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be higher than in England in order to meet their greater needs. An additional allocation of funds was recommended so that the gap between the level of public services in England and other parts of the UK could be closed. It was estimated that expenditure in Scotland needed to be 20% higher per person than in England. In 1978 Joel Barnett calculated a formula for distributing central government funds between Scotland, Wales and England. The ratio for spending was as follows:- Scotland: Wales: England – 10: 5: 85 The ratio, which roughly reflected the size of the respective populations, ensured that public spending per person in Scotland and Wales would be higher than in England. The formula was adjusted in 1992 to reflect 1991 population levels but it still understated the size of England’s population and overstated Scotland’s population.Since the introduction of the Barnett Formula there has been no further assessment of relative need. The position now is that Wales receives less public expenditure than it needs to attain the original objective, while Scotland receives too much. There is a case for helping Wales, which is one of the poorer parts of the UK, but it is plainly unfair to subsidise the entire population of Scotland to the tune of £30 per person per week. In the financial year 1993/4, identifiable government spending was 21% per person higher in Scotland than in England. By 1995/6 it had increased to 24%, and for Wales it was 17% higher.
The position for England, and especially its most needy areas, is worst than the figures above suggest. The 24% extra that Scotland receives is for all public service and welfare spending, including that on social security. Spending in policy areas that have been devolved to Scotland has been on average 31% per person higher in Scotland than in England. Spending in Scotland on health and personal social services was 22% higher; education 31% higher; transport 31% higher; trade, industry, energy and employment 55% higher; housing 87% higher; agriculture 123% higher. This despite Scotland being the third wealthiest region in the UK. (London and the South East were counted as one region in 1995/6) The additional funding for services in Scotland under the Barnett formula amounts to £8 billion each year. It is for this reason that public spending on health and education is higher per person in Scotland than in England. This has meant, for example, smaller class sizes in Scotland, higher pay for teachers, and the availability of NHS prescription drugs that are unavailable in England on grounds of cost.
On 22nd June 2000, Lord Barnett gave evidence to the Commons Treasury Select Committee. “I didn’t know it would last all of these years. I thought it was a temporary expedient but it finished up as a formula – nobody wanted to change it. There is huge scope for improvement because there was no assessment of real needs – that’s the real trouble. So consequently this formula that I used in 1978 is still being used today and that was purely political – there was no proper needs assessment – but Margaret Thatcher and John Major were frightened to change it for fear of loosing seats. The present government are reluctant to change it despite the fact that it clearly needs changing, and you should look at real needs – they are reluctant to change it now because they fear what will happen because of devolution in Scotland &- Scotland gets far more than it should.”
An essential part of the solutions to the problems outlined above is an English Parliament with a mandate to represent the interests of the whole of England and all its people. A parliament and executive would provide the people of England with the means for negotiating a fair distribution of public spending within the UK and allow them to allocate resources in a way that best meets their needs. Unity and co-operation within a natural political and cultural unit would be more fruitful than competition between artificial regions.There are those, like Lord Chancellor Irvine, a Scotsman, who are content with the present unfair arrangement and see no need to offer the people of England the same choice that was given to the people of Scotland. They argue that the West Lothian and English Questions should not be asked or answered. They are satisfied to see the constitution evolve in a gradual fashion while keeping the people of England content with the offer of Regional Government, which will dismember England into nine regions, each with its own assembly. This approach has been described by Will Hutton as “a witches’ brew of internecine rivalries.”
The Regional Assemblies would not have powers to enact primary legislation on devolved matters such as education, the NHS, and transport, which will need to be controlled countrywide. The assemblies and associated unelected quangos would be another tier of local government and bureaucracy, probably leading to the end of County Councils and therefore more remote from the electorate than at present. The regional approach attracts those who favour a European government of the Regions but, in breaking England into competing regions, it would be a partial reversion of England to the 9th century, yet without an adequate historical, cultural, or geographic basis for their boundaries. The parliamentary and government problems of the West Lothian and English questions would continue since Westminster would still have to enact all the primary legislation needed to govern England. (See Question Proposals have also been made to alter parliamentary procedure to deal with the West Lothian Question. These seek to debar MPs of Scottish constituencies from discussing and voting on English legislation (and similar restrictions on Welsh and Irish MPs when appropriate). This would significantly breach the principle of equality of members of the United Kingdom parliament and would be unworkable and chaotic in the possible circumstance of a government with an overall majority but not one of English MPs. The proposals also fail to address the problem of government (as opposed to parliamentary) control of English legislation. A continuing constitutional argument would result with procedures being amended by successive governments to serve their own interests and this would lead to unstable government.
The solution of devolving powers over English legislation to an English Parliament, with similar action for Wales, has therefore been advanced to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom receive equal treatment. It would provide a full answer to the English and West Lothian Questions, satisfy the growing sense of unfairness in England, and resolve the constitutional anomalies that have unbalanced the Union. Inevitably, it would be a major step in constitutional development but it has not yet been endorsed by any of the three main political parties.
The creation of an English Parliament is not only about achieving a devolution settlement that is fair. It is also about encouraging innovation and openness in our democracy. What better way to build on the English democratic tradition than by establishing an English Parliament? A Parliament designed for modern conditions which would make governments more accountable to those who elect them. The Campaign for an English Parliament was formed in 1998 and is growing steadily into a countrywide organisation. It is not a political party, nor is it allied to any political party, but it seeks to persuade public opinion and politicians of all parties that an English Parliament is the best way forward. It recognises that the proposal needs deep and careful consideration, and in this pamphlet it puts forward its Aim and answers some of the questions that flow from it.
The aim of the Campaign is to achieve an English Parliament and Executive with powers at least equivalent to those powers devolved to Scotland.The Campaign for an English Parliament seeks the creation of an English parliament and Executive based on the Scottish model, with power devolved to them from the UK parliament. The proposed constitutional arrangements will need the approval of the people of England.
To provide a full answer to the constitutional problems and provide a fairer system of devolved government for all parts of the United Kingdom, it would also be necessary to upgrade the Welsh Assembly to become a Welsh Parliament with similar devolved powers. However, that is a matter for the people of Wales and it is not therefore a specific aim of the Campaign for an English Parliament.
As well as solving the current constitutional problems, an English Parliament would:
Strengthen democratic control and make government more accountable to the people of England.
Enable the people of England to express their own priorities and direct spending to where it is most needed.
Better enable the people of England to pursue policies, which help preserve England’s identity and improve its environment.
Give England a voice (similar to that of Scotland) in the European Union.
Provide a partial realisation of the right to self-government to which the people of all countries aspire.
What powers would be devolved to an English Parliament?
Many of the powers presently exercised by the UK government, such as defence and foreign affairs, would become reserved matters. Those areas of government which are not specifically reserved, would be devolved matters. The main reserved matters are those that relate to:
the UK constitution;
social security policy and administration;
transport safety and regulation.
The devolved powers would be greater than is commonly supposed, and include responsibility for important areas of everyday life such as:
the National Health Service in England;
schools and teacher training;
further and higher education;
local government finance and taxation;
land-use planning and building control;
passenger and road transport;
economic development and financial assistance to industry;
civil and criminal courts;
much of criminal and civil law;
police and fire services;
certain areas of agriculture and fisheries;
Members of the English Executive would be able to formulate policies that suit the demands and interests of the people of England. They would be able to give priority to local needs within natural political and cultural boundaries. In addition, the Executive would be able to represent the interests of England to the UK government and the European Union.
Would the creation of an English Parliament result in a system of Federal Government of the United Kingdom?
An English Parliament modelled on the Scottish Parliament would not require the introduction of a federal system of government. A federal system would involve having a written constitution for the United Kingdom that would legally enshrine the powers of the Parliaments of the countries that form the United Kingdom. In a devolved system, following the example of Scotland, the Parliament of the United Kingdom would retain its sovereign powers. The powers devolved would be subject to change by statute enacted by that parliament. Our unwritten constitutional arrangements would adapt and evolve to produce a uniquely British system of democratic government.
Would an English Parliament lead to the break up of the United Kingdom?
The Union is a political idea that has survived for nearly three hundred years in spite of many changing circumstances. An English Parliament modelled on the Scottish Parliament would not, itself, lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, which would continue but in a different form. The strongest demand for withdrawal is from Scotland, where independence is an objective of the SNP. Scotland was accorded devolved powers in the expectation that it would help to keep it in the United Kingdom. The Campaign for an English Parliament seeks the same democratic structures and opportunities for England. If that reasonable demand is not met, there will be an injustice festering at the heart of the UK constitution. That injustice would become increasingly evident and resented should a government without a majority of parliamentary seats in England, use the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs to push through policies and legislation that apply only to England. It is that, not an English Parliament, which will generate ill feeling and undermine confidence in the Union. It is better to address the problem now rather than wait until discontent grows, as it surely will, and undermines confidence in the political process.
Would an English Parliament become too powerful since it would represent a disproportionately large number of people and wealth compared with the other parts of the Union?
An English Parliament with the same devolved powers of a Scottish Parliament would not unbalance the Union. Each parliament would be responsible for policy and the allocation of resources within its own territory. The effect of size would be no greater than that already existing in the UK parliament where 81% of the MPs represent English constituencies. Devolution marks an important stage in English constitutional and democratic history. The people of England are entitled to be consulted and given a choice about the form devolution should take. Other matters, such as those relating to the size and power of England, can be dealt with in a constitutional settlement for the whole UK, which could include reform of the House of Lords.
Would a United Kingdom Parliament with only retained powers provide an effective, overall government?
English matters take up over half the time of the present parliament, which frequently complains that there is insufficient time available to discuss and decide on important legislation. There would be more time to concentrate on important international, European, economic, defence and Union matters that are vital to the whole UK. Every MP would have a complete interest in the subjects under consideration. Even more importantly, Ministers would have greater time to devote to issues affecting the destiny of the United Kingdom and preserving its interests internationally.
How would an English Parliament affect proposals for a reformed Second Chamber?
Following the Scottish model, primary English legislation on matters devolved to an English Parliament would not be subject to review by a Second Chamber, but legislation concerning the extensive retained powers would continue to be reviewed. With English MPs continuing to be the largest group in the Commons, a second chamber is likely to continue to be needed in the UK Parliament to ensure that the interests of all parts of the UK are given full consideration. The Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords, or its successor, may be of importance in resolving any problems concerning the definition and use of retained and devolved powers. However, the powers and constitution of the Second Chamber are separate subjects that should not directly affect or delay the devolution of powers to an English Parliament.
How should a decision on an English Parliament be made?
A referendum should be held. To consider the full implications and frame the right questions (based on those put to Scotland), this would need to be preceded by a Constitutional Commission, ideally with all party support. In order to prevent delay, the Commission would need to be given a latest date for its recommendations.
What would be the size of an English Parliament and what would be the voting method used for its election?
These are pertinent questions for decision by a Constitutional Commission. Obviously, there are problems of proliferating the number of MPs. However, this was not allowed to affect the decision on devolution to Scotland and Wales where, because of the proportional representation system adopted, the numbers elected to their Parliament and Assembly exceed the number of their Westminster MPs. In any case, the representational requirements of an English Parliament are likely to be less than the total numbers needed for nine regional assemblies and cost far less. A full review of the representational needs of the Westminster Parliament has been advocated (Norton Report) and, while changes to constituencies would affect all parliaments, including an English Parliament, this should not become a reason for delaying its creation.
Would Regional Government in England be a better solution for English democracy?
Regional Government cannot be an alternative to an English Parliament because it is impracticable to devolve powers of enacting primary legislation to nine regions (covering subjects such as the NHS, education and transport). The existing problems identified in the West Lothian and English questions would remain. However, an English Parliament would have the power to alter the local government systems in England and this could include the introduction of some form of Regional Government, if that is what the people of England want. For instance, an English Parliament might wish to have a Select Committee for each region with the elected English MPs of each region being the equivalent of an Assembly.
Where would the English Parliament sit?
This would need to be an early democratic decision of the English Parliament and it could be sited anywhere in England. The Constitutional Commission would need to select a convenient temporary building to start with.
Proposals have been put forward for an English Parliament in the House of Commons with the House of Lords becoming the United Kingdom Parliament. Alternatively, that the present MPs from English constituencies should sit as an English Parliament for part of the week, with a separate English executive.
Are these valid proposals?
These are matters for consideration by a Constitutional Commission. The Campaign is for the establishment of an English Parliament and Executive with powers at least equivalent to those devolved to Scotland. All options for exactly how it should be established should be examined democratically and resulting recommendations put to the people in a referendum.
Who are the “People of England” who should be represented in an English Parliament ?
Every person on the electoral roll in England would be eligible to elect an MP to serve their interests and those of their children.
Is there really a serious constitutional problem to worry about?
Ever since devolution to Scotland and Wales in 1997 there has been a growing concern about the Constitution, including the effect on the government of England. This is evidenced by many Parliamentary discussions, letters, articles and comment in the media and a spate of books, pamphlets, reports and speeches. To name but a few, they include:
John Barnes, Federal Britain &- No Longer Unthinkable, Centre for Policy Studies 1998.
Teresa Gorman MP, A Parliament for England 1999.
William Hague speeches:
Thinking creatively about the Constitution Feb 1998;
Strengthening the Union after Devolution July 1999 (both to the Centre of Policy Studies
A Conservative View of Constitutional Change in Oxford, November 2000.
Professor, Lord Norton, Report of the Commission to Strengthen Parliament July 2000.
Jocelyn Ormond, An English Parliament &- A Proposal for Fairness and Transparency in a New Constitutional Settlement for Britain, Bow Group 1999.
Professor Robert Hazell, Constitutional Futures &- History of the Next Ten Years, 1999, ISBN 0-19-829801-3
Professor Robert Hazell, The State and the Nations : The First Year of Devolution, December 2000, ISBN 0-907845-80-0.
Andrew Marr, The Day Britain Died, 2000, ISBN 1-86197-223-7 (This was the subject of a major BBC TV Series.)
Jeremy Paxman, The English, 1998, ISBN 0-7181-4263-2
Simon Heffer, Nor Shall my Sword : The Re-invention of England, 1999
Norman Davies, The Isles : A History, 1999.
Michael Wood, In Search of England, 1999, ISBN 0-140-24733-5
Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain, reprint 2000, ISBN 0-7043-8140-0
John Humphrys, The Rape of the Constitution, 2000, ISBN 0-907845-70-3
John Lovejoy, The Deculturalisation of the English People, 2000, ISBN 1-903313-00-7
Tony Linsell (Ed), Our Englishness, 2000, ISBN 1-898281-24-6
Vernon Bogdanor, Devolution in the United Kingdom, ISBN 0-19-289310-6
Roger Scruton, England &- An Elegy, 2000
Tony Linsell, An English Nationalism, 2001, ISBN 1-903313-01-5
Sir Richard Body, England for the English, 200, ISBN 1-872410-14-6
Are the people of England really concerned ?
There is a steadily increasing concern as the debate develops and the unfairness to England resulting from devolution to Scotland becomes more apparent. In a report by the National Council for Social Research (1999) it was stated that the number of English people who declared that their allegiance solely to England had more than doubled to 17% from 7% in the last two years. Over 32% saw themselves as more English than British while over 37% saw themselves as equally British and English. In spite of considerable publicity for Regional Assemblies, only 15% expressed themselves in favour of the Assemblies while 18% favoured the much less publicised idea of a new English Parliament. These percentages indicate a strong developing trend towards the electorate believing that England and its people have interests and priorities that may be different from other parts of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, continuing irritations are expressed in the media about matters such as:
The ability of the Scottish Parliament to introduce legislation more favourable to its people than that applicable to those in England e.g. University fees; Care of the Elderly; certain NHS prescription drugs being available in Scotland but not England.
The Barnett formula, which provides considerably more money to Scotland and Wales compared with England, based on relative populations.
The denigration of any attempt to express support for England or Englishness.
Government forms, such as those for the Census, which do not recognise English nationality.
MPs from Scottish constituencies being over represented in the United Kingdom Parliament, having 72 existing MPs instead of the 57 that would be a fair and equitable comparison with the representation of English constituencies.
England is the home of a democratic tradition that has given rise to a distinctive system of law and parliamentary democracy which has served as a model for others. It is a proud and major part of the United Kingdom, a powerful and successful state of worldwide influence and importance. However, the devolution of powers to a Scottish Parliament has seriously unbalanced the Union, producing difficult constitutional problems in dealing with English matters in the House of Commons and the Government. A sense of profound unfairness is growing among the people of England. Creating Regional Assemblies in England would not remove the problems, as it is impractical to devolve to them the power to enact primary legislation. Amending parliamentary procedures in the House of Commons would not solve the English Question and would lead to continuing constitutional unrest as each new government changed the rules.
An English Parliament with devolved powers similar to those accorded to the Scottish Parliament would (with similar action for Wales) continue the process of devolution and produce a uniquely British system of government, owing nothing to the federal systems of other countries. It would produce an improved decentralised system of democratic government, bringing power to make decisions on priorities nearer to all the people of the United Kingdom. Devolved powers to an English Parliament would also enable the United Kingdom Parliament and Government to concentrate on its retained powers, including the vital matters of international relations, defence and the economy. The principle of devolving powers to an English Parliament should be referred to a Constitutional Commission that would examine the detailed aspects of implementation and provide recommendations to be decided by a Referendum. A parliament is a symbol of a people’s identity, unity, culture, and history. That belief was a key motivation in the campaign for a Scottish Parliament. It would be a great historic injustice for the people of England to be offered anything less.